Ambrosia Salad
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Jell-O Salad and Other Old-School Summer Recipes We Secretly Love

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Ambrosia Salad
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Potluck Classics

Summer is the season for cookouts and potlucks — where everyone is invited as long as they bring a dish to pass — even if some gatherings remain limited to family members or socially distanced neighbors. You'll find versions of some classic American party recipes at every potluck, including potato salad, deviled eggs, and Jell-O molds because, even though vintage recipes go in and out of style, they're often the first dishes to disappear from the buffet line. As you gear up for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July this year, consider making one of these delicious, retro potluck dishes that everyone loves.


Related: 13 Classic Ice Cream Truck Favorites You Can Make at Home

Cocktail Weiners
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Cocktail Weiners

Set out a slow cooker of cocktail weenies and some toothpicks at a party and they'll be gone in no time. Most recipes for this retro classic combine a tomato-based sauce, such as chili sauce or barbecue, and a sweet jelly or jam. Heated together, they make for a thick, sweet glaze to coat the little smoked sausages.


Recipe: Southern Living


Related: 35 Finger Foods for Game Day

Cheese Balls
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Cheese Balls

Cheese balls are a blend of one or more types of cheese with ingredients such as cream cheese and mayonnaise, rolled into a ball and coated with nuts, dried fruit, or other seasonings. It's spread on crackers or toast and can be flavored with just about anything. Though it's often seen as an inexpensive way to stretch cheese, the combination of creamy, salty cheese and crunchy nuts is hard to beat.


Recipe: Taste of Home


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Deviled Ham
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Deviled Ham

To "devil" a food is to mix it with highly flavored seasonings such as cayenne and mustard. Deviled ham is a spread for sandwiches or crackers made of ground ham that was first manufactured and canned in 1868 by the William Underwood Co. (making its devil logo is the oldest food trademark still in use today). Because it's a canned meat product, deviled ham gets a bad rap, but quick, savory, homemade versions are great for a potluck spread.


Recipe: Allrecipes


Related: 20 Bizarre Retro Dishes From Holidays Past

Macaroni Salad
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Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad has been a staple at American cookouts for as long as anyone can remember. Fat, soft noodles are a staple in Hawaiian mac salad, while Amish versions usually include a tangy, sweet dressing and crunchy diced vegetables. Regional variations in macaroni salad are countless, but any of them are sure to get gobbled up at a Fourth of July potluck.


Recipe: Food Network


Related: 16 Easy Pasta Salad Recipes for Summer

Spinach Dip in a Bread Bowl
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Spinach Dip in a Bread Bowl

Cold spinach dip served in a bread bowl was all the rage in the 1980s, and the centerpiece of every crudite platter of the era. Using frozen spinach, canned water chestnuts, and sometimes a package of Knorr seasoning, it's super quick and simple to prepare. It's also tasty enough that we hope it's going to make a comeback soon, as it's much easier to hold and serve than its baked cousin, spinach and artichoke dip.


Recipe: Taste of Home


Related: 24 Healthy Recipes You'll Never Know Were Made With Frozen Produce

Swedish Meatballs
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Swedish Meatballs

It's hard to find an appetizer or party cookbook from the 1950s that doesn't include a recipe for Swedish meatballs. The dish was brought to America by Scandinavian immigrants, who settled mostly in the upper Midwest and served it at gatherings and smorgasbords long before it became the fashion across the country. Don't forget to serve the little cocktail meatballs with tart lingonberry jam, which helps cut through the rich gravy.


Recipe: Food52


Related: The True Origins of 19 Classic "American" Foods

Cheesy Potatoes
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Cheesy Potatoes

Cheesy potatoes go by many names: funeral potatoes, scalloped potatoes, and potato casserole, to name a few. But they're all generally the same mixture of shredded or diced potatoes, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and cheese. It's baked until bubbly, and we love the contrast between the creamy casserole and the crunchy corn flakes or crushed crackers on top.


Recipe: Ore-Ida


Related: Pie Crust and Other Delicious Uses for Cereal Besides Breakfast

Classic Green Bean Casserole
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Green Bean Casserole

Campbell's classic green bean casserole is always one of the first dishes to go at a potluck, even when it's not Thanksgiving. The recipe was created by Dorcas Reilly in 1955 as she worked as a supervisor in the home economics department of the Campbell's test kitchen. It uses few ingredients, most of which are pantry staples, so it's quick to put together and eaten just as fast.


Recipe: Campbell's Kitchen


Related: 21 Casseroles Your Grandma Could Make Without Opening a Cookbook

Deviled Eggs
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Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are so ubiquitous at parties and cookouts that you can buy a specially designed platter to hold them securely at just about any big box store such as Walmart or Target. It's a party food that's never gone out of fashion, and still shows no signs of slowing down. There are as many variations on the recipe as there are families, but you can bet they're all loved.


Recipe: Betty Crocker


Related: 21 Old-School Appetizers That We Still Secretly Love

Stuffed Celery
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Stuffed Celery

Celery stuffed with cream cheese has been served as a party snack since the early 1900s but rose to popularity in the 1960s as a quick-fix dish that's easily transportable and endlessly adaptable. (Don't forget ants on a log!) Most recipes include chopped olives for a briny kick, and you can use a pastry bag to pipe the mixture onto the celery if you're feeling fancy.


Recipe: Taste of Home


Related: 18 Foods That Will Help You Hydrate

Spoonbread
Spoonbread by lezumbalaberenjena (CC BY-NC-ND)
Potato Salad
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Potato Salad

The much-beloved potato salads we know today came to America by a convoluted route. The potato, a plant native to South America, was brought to Europe in the 16th century; by some time in the 19th century, European immigrants introduced potato salads to America. Germans favored a bacon and vinegar-based salad, while the French and British probably influenced the mayo-based potato salad most common at cookouts.


Recipe: Allrecipes


Related: 22 Quick and Easy Cold Salads for People Who Hate Lettuce

Sloppy Joes
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Sloppy Joes

The all-American sloppy joe has a few possible origin stories, including one in Havana, Cuba. Most likely, it evolved from loose meat sandwiches in Iowa in the early 20th century, and quickly became a staple at school lunches and potlucks. Skip the can and make them from scratch to really impress guests.


Recipe: Taste of Home


Related: Picky Eaters? Try These 10 Easy 20-Minute Meals

Tuna Casserole
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Tuna Noodle Casserole

Campbell's came out with cream of mushroom soup in 1934, paving the way for all kinds of savory baked dishes. Tuna casserole was one of them, combining egg noodles, canned tuna, perhaps some peas, and cheese into a hearty, from-the-pantry meal. It became popular in the 1940s, when frugality was on everyone's mind, and has since become a nostalgic dish everyone loves.


Recipe: Campbell's Kitchen


Related: 21 Hearty Casserole and Stew Recipes That Reheat Well

Rumaki
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Rumaki

America was infatuated with Polynesian and Hawaiian culture in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the most popular dishes was rumaki, made with chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon with a sweet glaze. The famous tiki restaurant Trader Vic's is credited with inventing the dish, and it quickly spread. It's not something you see often on party spreads anymore, but the teriyaki-like sauce on bacon and crunchy water chestnuts are hard to resist.


Recipe: Saveur


Related: 22 Mouthwatering Bacon Dishes Across America

Waldorf Salad
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Waldorf Salad

Created in 1896 by Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'hotel of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, Waldorf salad started as a simple combination of apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Over the years, walnuts, grapes, and sometimes even chicken was added, and it became popular once again in the 1960s. It's a refreshing, crunchy dish that's hard to turn down in the heat of summer.


Recipe: Taste of Home


Related: 15 Old-School Dishes Making a Comeback at Restaurants

Turkey Tetrazzini
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Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey (or chicken) tetrazzini was probably created in the early 20th century and named for Italian singer Luisa Tetrazzini. It was made up of spaghetti baked in a white sauce with parmesan cheese. Like many U.S. favorites, it regained popularity in the mid 20th century when canned cream soup and convenience cooking were all the rage. It's total comfort food, so even if it's out of fashion right now, it will always result in an empty dish by the end of the potluck.


Recipe: The Spruce Eats


Related: 25 Recipes That Transform Canned Soup Into a Meal

Three Bean Salad
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Three Bean Salad

Bean salads, whether made with three, four, or even more types of beans, have been around for a long time. Most typical is a three-bean mixture that uses green beans with legumes such as kidney beans or chickpeas. Unlike other potluck salads, bean salad is dressed in a vinaigrette without mayonnaise, so it stays fresh  longer without refrigeration. That makes it one of the healthiest items on any potluck spread, so chow down.


Recipe: Allrecipes


Related: 12 Easy, Tasty Recipes That Celebrate Beans

King Ranch Chicken
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Watergate Salad
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Watergate Salad

When Kraft first sold instant pistachio pudding mix in 1975, it developed a recipe called Pineapple Pistachio Delight that used it along with another of their products, Cool Whip. That sweet mixture purportedly became known as Watergate salad when a Chicago newspaper reprinted the recipe with the new name. It was popular immediately after the Watergate political scandal, and has hung around as a creamy dessert and side dish, especially in the Midwest, ever since.


Recipe: My Food and Family


Related: 20 Low-Cost Desserts That Are Easy As Pie

Watermelon Rind Pickles
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Watermelon Rind Pickles

Watermelon rind pickles exist for two reasons: to use up every last bit of something that took a lot of time and effort to grow, and because pickling was one of the only effective preservation methods before refrigeration. In the South and pockets of the Midwest, especially where German and Russian immigrants settled, the sweet, salty pickles are a popular side dish and snack with the complex flavors of cloves, cinnamon, and allspice.


Recipe: Epicurious


Related: 25 Ways to Stop Wasting Food and Save Money

Seven-Layer Salad
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Seven-Layer Salad

Though the ingredients can vary, most retro seven-layer salads include chopped lettuce, peas, mayonnaise, bacon, and cheese. They're typically layered in a big glass bowl for an impressive presentation. Because the dressing layer is on top, the ingredients don't get soggy, making it a great do-ahead potluck recipe. With all its fresh ingredients, it's a great foil to the typical meat-heavy cookout.


Recipe: Feast and Farm


Related: Healthy Meals You Can Make Ahead

Jell-O Salad
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Jell-O Salad

Jell-O salad, though using a brand name for flavored gelatin, has become a catchall term for a dish made with gelatin. They're usually sweet desserts, but can be side dishes too. Some are shaped in vintage ring molds, while others are scoopable. There are some that seem to appear at every potluck, such as strawberry pretzel salad and all flavors of brightly colored fruit "fluff." No matter the version, we love them all for a Fourth of July celebration because they're chilled, light, and jiggly.


Recipe: My Food and Family


Related: 22 Things You Didn't Know About Jell-O

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

While upside-down cakes have existed in many forms for centuries, the pineapple upside-down cake we love in America was popularized by Dole, the company that first canned pineapple in 1903. In 1925, Dole held a recipe contest to promote it products, and received 2,500 recipes for pineapple upside down cake alone, cementing its place in U.S. cuisine. Though it can be made with fresh pineapple, the retro version with perfect fruit rings studded with bright red maraschino cherries will always be a nostalgic classic.


Recipe: Dole


Related: 37 Easy and Indulgent Instant Pot Desserts for a Cozy Night at Home

Chiffon Pie
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Chiffon Pie

A chiffon pie is made by folding whipped egg whites into a fruit mixture thickened with cornstarch or gelatin. It results in a light, airy filling that won't weigh you down in hot weather. It's generally credited to Monroe Boston Strause, also known as the Pie King, in the 1920s. Today, the most common flavors are pumpkin and lemon, though practically any fruit filling benefits from the lightness of meringue.


Recipe: Saveur


Related: 50 Under-the-Radar Restaurants with Amazing Homemade Pie

Red Velvet Cake
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Red Velvet Cake

It's hard to resist a piece of red velvet cake. Its exact origins are murky, but what is clear is that Adams Extract, a food coloring manufacturer, published a recipe using red food coloring in the 1940s that helped spur its popularity. Nowadays, recipes often use buttermilk to keep the cake moist and top it off with piles of white cream cheese frosting.


Recipe: Adams Original Extract


Related: Best Cupcakes in Every State

Pineapple Casserole
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Pineapple Casserole

If you grew up in the South, chances are you're familiar with pineapple casserole, a staple at gatherings, funerals, Easter dinners, and potlucks of all types. It's a mix of sweet and salty, with canned pineapple, sharp cheddar cheese, and crushed Ritz crackers, making it a great side dish to pass. Feel free to substitute fresh pineapple for canned when it's in season.


Recipe: Tasting Table


Related: 30 Strange But Surprisingly Tasty Local Foods to Try

Ambrosia Salad
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Tunnel of Fudge Cake
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Tunnel of Fudge Cake

Ella Helfrich came in second place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off competition — but her recipe, the Tunnel of Fudge cake, is the one recipe most associated with the contest today. As it bakes, the nut-filled chocolate bundt cake develops a fudge-like center that stays soft and moist even after it's cooled. It's a classic recipe that keeps well and feeds a lot of people.


Recipe: Pillsbury


Related: 18 Cheap Recipes That Celebrate Chocolate

Cherry Pie
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Cherry Pie

There's nothing more American than pie, and in the summer, that means cherry. Traditionally, sour cherries have been used in pies, giving the filling its bright-red hue; it's the difficulty of finding tart cherries that makes recipes using sweet cherries popular. To feed a big potluck crowd, make a slab pie in a jelly roll pan and watch it disappear quickly.


Recipe: Recipe Girl


Related: 22 Classic Pie Recipes

Cherries Jubilee
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Cherries Jubilee

Created by famous gourmand Auguste Escoffier in honor of Queen Victoria's jubilee celebration, cherries jubilee is a dish of cooked cherries flambeed and served over ice cream. It was adapted for the U.S. kitchen in 1950s and 1960s cookbooks. Now, the retro recipe is best made in summer when cherries are in season, and can be made without the theatrical flambee for simplicity.


Recipe: Bon Appetit


Related: 25 Easy Recipes for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Texas Sheet Cake
Texas Sheet Cake by Lonnon Foster (CC BY-NC)

Texas Sheet Cake

No one's quite sure of the real history behind Texas sheet cake, the thin, poured frosting-topped chocolate cake. With typical Texas ingredients such as buttermilk and pecans, it seems likely it's from the state, or at least the South. Since the cake is made in a half-sheet pan, it feeds a huge crowd without much work, making it a perfect potluck dessert that everyone loves.


Recipe: Texas Monthly


Related: 30 Thanksgiving Desserts That Aren't Pies